Email
Print
Email
Print

Italian Open final features two of the best rivalries in tennis

Decrease fontDecrease font
Enlarge fontEnlarge font
Rafael Nadal's rivalry with Roger Federer has hardly been close on clay, with Nadal taking 12 of 14. (Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal’s rivalry with Roger Federer has hardly been close on clay, where Nadal sports a gaudy 12-2 record. (Clive Mason/Getty Images)

ROME — Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will meet for the 30th time Sunday in the final of the Italian Open. Nadal cruised past Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-4 in the first semifinal Saturday and Federer pulled out a scratchy win over surprise semifinalist Benoit Paire 7-6 (5), 6-4 in the evening session. It will be the first meeting in a final between the two since the 2011 French Open, where Nadal prevailed in four sets. Nadal leads the head-to-head 19-10, including a 12-2 edge on clay and 13-6 advantage in finals.

“It’s nice to have those revival moments for the both of us because we’ve had some epics, particularly in finals,” Federer said. “I’m sure we’re both looking forward to it. I clearly am.”

Federer will come into Sunday’s final as an even bigger underdog than he’s previously been on clay. Since Nadal returned in February after missing seven months with a knee injury, he has made the final of all eight tournaments he’s played (seven of which were one clay) and won five with a chance for six on Sunday. That remarkable run will propel him to No. 1 in the Race for London rankings on Monday, meaning despite spilling the first month of the season, he has accumulated more rankings points in 2013 than Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic and Australian Open finalist and Miami champion Andy Murray.

Nadal says he played one of his best sets of tennis in the first set against Berdych on Saturday and he’s brimming with confidence. If he wins on Sunday, Nadal will take over the No. 4 ranking and head into the French Open as the No. 4 seed.

“The first set was fantastic,” Nadal said after beating Berdych. “I think I played one of the best matches since I am back.”

While Nadal has been a runaway train upon returning to the tour, Federer’s season has yet to gain much traction. Sunday will mark his first final of the season and he’s benefited from a very soft draw. He has not faced a seed, let alone a top 15 player, beating Potito Starace, Gilles Simon, Jerzy Janowicz and Paire. Federer sprayed a surprising number of unforced errors against Paire in the semifinals, finishing with 19 winners to 26 unforced errors. That’s a winnable line against the erratic Frenchman, but it won’t be enough against Nadal.

“Rafa is a tough player for me to play against,” Federer said. “He is the best player on clay that we’ve seen in such a long time, maybe in history. I like the challenge playing against him. I’m happy I get another opportunity.”

Federer has played all four of his matches during the night sessions in Rome, where the air is markedly cooler, while Nadal has played all his matches during the day. Federer acknowledged he had a quicker turnaround for Sunday’s afternoon final but no matter of fatigue would play a role.

“He’s had a tough last couple of weeks,” Federer said. Nadal has played 19 matches on clay covering four tournaments since mid-April. Federer has played just six matches in the last two weeks. “Does that even it out a little bit? I don’t know,” Federer said. “He’s got the confidence, I’ve had the late nights. He’s played a lot. My matches are a bit easier, more straightforward. So I don’t think it’s going to play a huge role. The better man will win tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes.”

Meanwhile, the women’s final will feature a rematch of the WTA’s marquee rivalry as top-ranked Serena Williams, who is riding a career-best 23-match winning streak, will play Victoria Azarenka, the last woman to have beaten her. Both players came through their semifinals dishing bagel sets, with Williams beating Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0 and Azarenka besting last year’s French Open finalist, Sara Errani, 6-0, 7-5.

Azarenka defeated Williams 7-6 (6), 2-6, 6-3 to win the Qatar Open in February, snapping a nine-match losing streak to the American with her first victory in the series since 2009.

“She played well in that match,” Williams said, recalling their last clash. “I was just happy to be in the final in Doha at that point. It was a really tough tournament for me. I definitely had opportunities to win and I think Victoria played really well on the big points and I didn’t.”

Despite the seemingly easy win in the semifinals over Halep, Williams was unhappy with her form and went straight to the practice court after her match. She’s cruised through the field, dropping no more than four games to any opponent and looking as dominant as she’s ever looked on clay.

Prediction: Nadal in two; Williams in two. 

  • Published On May 18, 2013
  • 14 comments
    MarcNichol
    MarcNichol

    nadal's played a lot for sure but not four weeks in a row...there was a week off after barcelona

    Agassi,Serena,Roddick,Venus
    Agassi,Serena,Roddick,Venus like.author.displayName 1 Like

    Surprise, Surprise, Surprise... Courtney Nguyen actually picked Serena to win even with Vika wining in a tight three setter in Doha, lol.. But when Masha took just one set from Serena in Miami it was predicted that Ms. Sugarpova would beat Serena in the Madrid final...

    ummair.malik
    ummair.malik

     @Agassi,Serena,Roddick,Venus This is because clay is clearly Azarenka's worst surface. Had this meeting been on hard courts, she would have given Azarenka the edge. Plus Williams had some tough matches in Madrid heading into the final, whereas here she has cruised through the field. There are a lot of things.

    Agassi,Serena,Roddick,Venus
    Agassi,Serena,Roddick,Venus

     @ummair.malik Clearly clay is Serena's worst surface too according to all the tennis sports commentators, yet Serena has said from day one that she loves the clay court.... She slides well on clay which isn't surprising at all considering how she slides on hards courts. But let the tennis commentaries tell you Serena doesn't slide well on clay either. 

     

    The two sports commentators that actually speak well in terms of the game of tennis and especially on how Serena plays are Mary Jo Fernandez and Chris Evert. Serena's biggest obstacle on clay is "Patience," in the 2002 French Open final Chris Evert said it best by stating that Serena's patience is what hurts on clay. It's that patience that has kept Serena from being on top of her game on the red dirt. Patrick Mouratoglou has some way found way to make Serena learn to have patience on the red dirt and use more than just power game style of tennis...

     

    Vika's win in Doha was nothing really surprising but rather expected to be honest. Serena struggled a whole lot more in Doha to reach the final than in Madrid and the hard court is better surface fitted to Serena's game. It was shocking that it took Vika three sets to do it. 

     

    The biggest difference this time is Serena is healthy without a cold (from what she has shown, but she had pretty bad cough that was televised during her semifinal match), no sore ankle or back to worry about and most of all she playing with a lot more patience understanding that winning points are not quick and easy on the red dirt...

    Agassi,Serena,Roddick,Venus
    Agassi,Serena,Roddick,Venus

     @ummair.malik Well today Serena gave Vika the run around as expected... making it 12-2 against Vika. I'd take Vika over Masha any day because she has a better positive attitude when she suffers a lost to Serena than Masha, showing that her and Serena do get along well off the court.

     

    Everyone talks about the needing and so called rivalry Serena has against Masha and Vika, but in reality there isn't one, period. The only players that have a ligament rivalry with Serena is JJ (6-4) & Sammy (6-3), while 'V' (14-10) did back in the day... Remember JJ beat Serena in the Rome Semifinal in 2010, while Sammy took her out of the French in the Quarters in 2010

     

    A low ranked player has a better chance of beating Serena than Masha or VIka because Serena doesnt bring that same focus, drive & tenacity all the time when playing lower ranked players. That is what commentators fail to see and recognize about Serena and her game. Patrick as an added coach to the team has noticed this and is helping Serena fine tune it very well... As he said in this New York Times piece during the WTA Championships in Istanbul 2012

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/27/sports/tennis/serena-williams-back-on-the-rise-with-newfound-appreciation.html?_r=1&

     

    Rafa first set 6-1, just like Serena!

     

     

    ummair.malik
    ummair.malik

     @Agassi,Serena,Roddick,Venus You have some good points. Clay definitely is Serena's worst surface. However, that being said, Serena's worst is head and shoulders above Vika's worst. Serena is playing with more patience (as you pointed out) and is healthy. My point was just that Serena was struggling in Madrid and Sharapova was riding a clay streak, hence the author gave Sharapova the edge in her pre-match analysis (this is only my point of view, I don't know what the author had in her mind). However, here the circumstances are completely different. 

     

    I was just trying to put in my point of view regarding your comment concerning the author picking Sharapova over Serena for madrid but Serena over Azarenka for Rome.

     

    Azarenka has been giving Serena a run for money lately, considering they had a few tough battles last year as well (US Open Final, Wimbledon SF (Yes it was a two setter but Azarenka stood toe to toe with Serena in the second set))

    Hope this turns into a true rivalry. WTA needs a good rivalry.

    LJRich
    LJRich

    Deprive Sticky fingers of the time to fix the wedge or do his repetitive motions and victory is assured. Go Roger!

    ahowz4u2
    ahowz4u2

    Not that it will necessarily matter tomorrow, but Rafa is the one that had two matches that went 3 sets.

    ahowz4u2
    ahowz4u2 like.author.displayName 1 Like

    Give me a break  --where did that first 3-6 set take place?  In your imagination???  Fed won in two sets.  For a tennis blogger - that's unexcusable.

    Playtime_Engine
    Playtime_Engine

    Agreed gopdogg, Roger has looked in excellent form this week, beating even streaking players in straight sets. A different proposition tomorrow no doubt though, with the same old heavy top spin forehand to the backhand schtick. For shame. But at least he's finally reached a first final of the season. Been a long time coming.

    gopdogg
    gopdogg like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

    "...Federer needed three sets to beat No. 24 Janowicz, winning 3-6, 7-6 6-4,"

     

    Do you even bother to check your facts before writing this blog, or is your well documented anti-Federer bias too much for you to set aside?  Fed beat Janowicz 6-4, 7-6(2).